A knock on the door interrupts a routine meeting. When he sees his brother and parents standing on the other side of the threshold, he knows something is wrong.
He is right. Strong, Page 3 Last October, SFA senior JD Rodgers learned his dad was dying of cancer and had seven months to live. “You can imagine that was a very emotional night. We did lots of talking and had decisions to make,” JD said. “It was pretty hard toward the end of the semester. We decided as a family that we were going to grow stronger in this and live with purpose.”
JD’s dad, Chris Rodgers, had his first encounter with cancer in the summer of 2013. Chris is a pastor and works with orphanages, tribes and pastors in Africa. About 16 years ago when he was 30, Chris said he came to know the Lord on the fifth floor of a casino. While Chris, his wife and JD’s brother were working in Africa, Chris was medically flown home due to jaundice. “He had cancer and they diagnosed it as pancreatic cancer,” JD said. “He went through a very intense surgery where he lost a lot of weight. They took out a whole lot of stuff. He went through chemo for a while.” In the summer of 2014, Chris was considered in remission. “They said everything was looking good, everything was successful,” JD said. “I considered my dad healed and in remission.”
However, in October when Chris went in for a routine visit, the doctors noticed something was off. JD explained how his dad’s tumor count should have been at 14 to be considered normal, but in October it was at 111. That’s when the doctors gave him seven months to live. With this diagnosis, JD said he and his family want to help Chris “finish strong.”
The latest update in January revealed that Chris’ tumor count had risen to 2,965. “That kind of made everything more real,” JD said. “He is speaking at lots of events and people around him are already changing, so it’s pretty cool to watch.” Before hearing the news, JD and his staff were planning a Halloween party at their church. They decided to put the event on hold once they learned of Chris’ diagnosis. They shifted their focus to an event where Chris could speak, and “Finish Strong” was born.
“Finish Strong” is a free event that will be held at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2, in the Grand Ballroom in the Baker Pattillo Student Center. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. “We are inviting adults, teenagers from nearby high schools and SFA college students to just motivate them to look at the time they have left in their life, whether it be a year or 80 years, and to consider what’s prohibiting them from experiencing life to the fullest,” JD said. Two musicians will be featured; Christian hip hop artist Derek Minor and Tim Halperin, who was an American Idol finalist in 2011. Minor is bringing a drummer and a DJ to add some hype to the beginning of the event. “It is an opportunity for motivation and music to collide and to inspire students to really evaluate their life and see if they are living to the full potential and if they really know what true life is,” JD said.
SFA’s Thomas Walkup will speak about living life with purpose. Walkup will use the basketball slogan, “Dream Bigger” and relate that to his personal life, sports and the “Finish Strong” event. “We want students to see someone of high stature here on campus who supports this event and the cause of it,” JD said. “That’s going to be pretty cool.” JD has taken a semester off of school to be available for his family. He decided to stay in Nacogdoches to work at Grace Bible Church and to be with his friends and support system. JD planned “Finish Strong” with a staff of about 30 others. “My pastor said ‘I’m just going to give you full reign of this. You have full call on everything. This is all you so if you are willing to do it, and if you are up to it, you are completely in charge of this event.’ I agreed and that’s what completely replaced my schooling. I can’t believe it is already here,” JD said. Instead of moping, JD decided to keep himself busy and create purpose with his situation. “This event has been kind of like my child. If I didn’t have it to focus on and to take up my time and give purpose behind everything I’m going through, I would be in a very bad place,” JD said. “I’m thankful that with this I get to see the support from my community, the people who are really understanding of what’s going on and those who have my back. It’s made me see a whole new side.”
Watching this event grow has been an experience for both JD and his dad.“It makes me proud that even though the reality of the main speaker is it is his dad, [JD] is treating it like he doesn’t’ know me,” Chris said. “He is not letting his emotions, feelings or grief get in the way of that. He is staying strong and getting it done. I am his dad, but the main thing is that people’s lives are changed in this event.” JD and his staff worked to set the agenda, order promotional items, pick the artists and coordinate with them for this event. “I think the cool thing about this event is it is solely us. We had to think of everything,” JD said. “With this we are running every aspect of it and we literally created this event to impact this campus through what’s going on.” The event is projected to cost $15,000 and last week JD set up a gofundme account for support.
Gofundme is an online service where people can donate money using services such as PayPal. The account is www.gofundme.com/ finishstrongsfa. The subtitle for this event is “How a dying man has never felt more alive.” “I feel like normally people don’t handle it the way my dad is,” JD said. “A lot of people go into personal me time and he is really wanting to impact the world with the time he has left.”
While Chris is the main speaker, he is humble in his hopes for this event. “I don’t want this event to portray me as a hero or something more than I’m not,” Chris said. “The main thing I’m hoping for is if my story can change student lives or adults; if my story can prevent them from wasting any more life. I just care if lives are changed.” Chris said he has had his message for this event planned since the day after he was diagnosed. “I’m ready. I’ve already been preaching this message,” Chris said. “God said everywhere you go that’s the message you’re going to preach.”
As the “Finish Strong” event approaches, Chris explains how he is finishing strong by making preparations for his wife so she is taken care of. He is also writing his story for his children and grandchildren. He hopes he can find a guide to take him to preach at a tribe in Africa, which is considered dangerous because of its location deep in the jungle. “I would love to finish that way,” Chris said. “I would love for that to be my last adventure.”
Family life has remained the same for the Rodgers. Last week, JD traveled home to film video footage for the event. Chris said his family is a blessing. “They are the true heroes because I’m going to die here pretty soon and I’ll be done with it; I won’t have anymore struggles or battles. That chapter is over for me, but for them the chapter is starting. They will have to deal with the struggle and the grief,” Chris said. “They are the heroes. They have to keep living and finishing strong.”